VULGO took a jaunt down to the wonderful, multi-stranded Kilkenny Arts Festival to dip its toe into the festival fare – starting with the sublime young Danish singer Agnes Obel at St. Canice’s Cathedral on Thursday night. Side-lit by the cloudy luminosity of a nearly full moon, we climbed the stairs to this Gothic hill-top venue – stepping through spooky graves on the way in, under the watchful eye of its 1,000 year-old round tower.
Inside we marveled at 500 year-old tombs of the Butler family, a ghostly gothic organ, and exquisite Harry Clarke windows. From our pew, we peered up and were transfixed by detailed wooden carvings of gargoyles jutting out of the elegantly vaulted gothic ceiling. And that was all before the music started. The dainty, uber-talented Agnes Obel took her seat up at a humongous grand piano, accompanied by Anne Mueller on cello, guitar, and wind/xylophone. They swept us up under their spell for the evening with songs like ‘Riverside’:
And this wonderful version of John Cale’s “Close Watch”:
Can’t you tell she loves Debussy and Eric Satie? The extraordinary Agnes Obel at St. Canice’s Cathedral was part of the ‘Wired’ strand of the festival (which also featured artists like James Vincent McMorrow), curated by Matthew Nolan.
The next day, we made it to see Una McKevitt’s finely crafted new show “The Big Deal” in which multi-talented VULGO contributor Una Kavanagh and Shani Williams enact the story of two friends, Patrick and Sean, who transition to Cathy, and Deborah, respectively. The spare, matter of fact script doesn’t stint on medical, or wrenching emotional detail, all recounted without a drop of self-pity. We really got to like and admire these two human beings, their bravery, and the impressive courage of their convictions.
The play was constructed out of interviews, diaries, and letters between the two real people, while they were contemplating, and then undergoing the gender transformation. In “The Big Deal’ Una McKevitt and her fine cast lay bare, and illuminate this unusual path of ‘indivduation’ which involved giving up (and ‘letting down’), their respective wives, and taking on a new identity to their children (who seemed surprisingly understanding of the transformation). This kind of testimonial or documentary theatre, staging the story of real people, in unusual circumstances – for example here feeling they were born in the wrong bodies, and then actually following through and doing something about it – heralds a new raw voice in Irish theatre. The result is a riveting hour of theatre, which gives us a window into a little-known, heartfelt world, usually off-limits, out of bounds, and shrouded in ill-informed cliche. Don’t miss this strangely moving show when it comes your way.
“The Big Deal” was part of the extensive theatre and dance strand of Kilkenny Arts Festival, curated by Tom Creed. VULGO was also hankering to see Gare St. Lazare Player’s “Title and Deed”, a new play by New Yorker Will Eno, written specifically to be performed by gifted performer Conor Lovett. Alas we had to high-tail it back to Dublin.
We were intrigued by the inclusion of an economics lecture in St. Canice’s Cathedral – UCD Professor of Economics, Morgan Kelly’s “What Happened to Ireland?”, and delighted to see that this new economic gospel is available online. Catch up yourself here at what Miriam Lord referred to in the Irish Times as the Professor “preaching his economic gospel in the heart-soaring setting of St Canice’s Cathedral”. Morgan Kelly’s lecture was part of the extensive literature programme, curated by Colm Tobin.
And finally, we would like to pay a Vulgo-verse tribute to Damian Downes, the excellent outgoing CEO of Kilkenny Arts Festival, who has done a fantastic job on creating a world-class event every August for four years running, spoiling us for cultural choice, and balancing the books in these challenging times. We think part of his cool, calm, and collected secret is casting good curators and a great team.
For example – Josephine Kelliher of Dublin’s Rubicon Gallery curated a prolific and strong visual arts programme. Craft, curated by Angela O’Kelly, was naturally for Kilkenny, another high-point. The Grennan Mill Craft Show exhibition in picturesque Thomastown was particularly alluring. Gerry Godley curated another music strand for the festival, from T with the Maggies and Donal Lunny in St. Canice’s Cathedral, to Norwegian sensation Mari Kvien Brunvoll in the back of Cleere’s happening pub – making an extremely fun week in the medieval city.
by Deirdre Mulrooney
[Front page photograph of St. Canice's Cathedral by Gerry Sugrue]